From Aphex Twin to Apple: Transforming retail space for brand activation

The critical thinking that goes into transforming a retails space for events, and the restrictions, inspiration and technical ways to bring it to life.

We at Stout find many clients want integrated brand activations that allow customers to engage with content in new and exciting ways. We have recently worked on high-profile branding activations for the new Porsche Taycan; Aphex Twin Collapse EP launch; Tiffany & Co's Paper Flowers NYC and London launches; and Apple - Beats.

We are often asked by our clients to come up with something novel or create a variant of something we have experimented with in-house. The main goal for us at Stout is always to build bold experiences for our clients.

The Leap Motion Control Plinths we created for Aphex Twin's album launch is an excellent example of an experiment becoming a commercial project. We first developed the plinths for an internal art installation ‘An exercise in vulnerability’, and they have subsequently become a popular product aimed solely at brand activation type installs.

Most of the retail spaces we've designed to date have been at brand flagship stores around the world. Sometimes we are creating for launch events held in prestigious buildings, or event spaces. Now and then we are briefed to design for outside areas. The most random place we have worked has to be on a floating barge in the middle of the Thames for a Microsoft launch event. Getting a boat to work each day in the heart of London city was an unforgettable experience.

Location and implementation 

Often a location or the architecture of a building can inspire the creative. However, when we are installing in a store or event space, it's the other way around. The retail space needs to be transformed from its previous known state and become a more significant part of the storytelling of the brand narratives.

Most of the challenges faced early on in the design process are ones of budget and what's physically possible. We work in a cutting-edge world where we have to learn to sell crazy ideas that have never been done before, in a rational manner. We often enter these complex projects with just a top-line idea in mind. You have to be comfortable with the speed at which things can change. Including development time and carefully planned pre-visualisation is all part of the equation.

Real-time software such as Notch enables us to visualise ideas quickly and communicate concepts clearly to our clients. Once we have pre-visualised the ideas we are able to use the same software to both implement the content design and drive the interaction once it goes live. Effective pre-visualisation allows our bold ideas to get off the drawing board and out into the world.

We often find there is more red tape in traditional retail spaces as opposed to event spaces, most likely because this type of venue has a consistently high pedestrian footfall. These types of spaces are not designed with AV needs in mind either. We have found ourselves in shopping centres running cables through the strangest of places.

You have to adapt your typical workflow to achieve your goals - and this is true of most live event installs - even in live concert touring. In the battle against online distributors, we may see retail spaces adapt to the needs of customer experience. Till then, with enough planning and clear communication, these challenges are easy enough to overcome.

Case Study: One Plus

Sparq approached Bluman Associates to create multiple interactive activations at the OnePlus launch event. Bluman turned to the talented content arm at Stout Studio to produce several high-end, custom interactive experiences for the one-off event.

I led the creative direction, utilising concepts and technologies developed by Stout. Our vision was to create an interactive hologram which floated above a Leap Motion controlled plinth system. The user would be able to gesture in the air to conjure a holographic display floating above them.

I created a 3D photorealistic re-creation of the OnePlus flagship handset with Notch, and the activation paired a tightly framed section of Hologause and two 30k Panasonic projectors for exceptional results. The result was a product that popped with three-dimensionality.

Designing for fixed installations is very much a process, and we always try to manage the visual expectations of the client. Creating detailed pre-visualisations helps us to reach our own, and the client’s end goals. With good real-time software, you can quickly iterate designs based on tests from the physical space and client feedback.

Lewis Kyle White is lead creative at Stout.

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